White Fools with Dreadlocks
Loman London believed the labors of others should profit Loman London. I had been summoned to disabuse him, again, of this quaint notion.
A soft Los Angeles morning sun gentled my shoulders as I made a left turn in my ’69 Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible from Ocean Avenue to Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
Kiyoko was on my mind. My on-and-off girlfriend, Kiyoko was a Buddhist who hadn’t yet come to appreciate my line of work. Last night, to the accompaniment of Japanese imprecations, she’d thrown me out of her house. It didn’t help that I’d laughed at her insults. I couldn’t help it. I understood only a few words of Japanese. Forku, porku, steaku, elephanto. Americanized additions to the language. Not the words she had chosen from the other side of the kitchen island. So I laughed, hoping to bluff my way through; a sitcom, a new take on the Odd Couple.
Exiled. One arm stiffly pointing in the direction of the Pacific Ocean, she summed up her aggravations in one word: barbarian.
Up ahead on the left was my morning’s destination, a modern, two-story, yellow stucco building with purposely protruding I-beams. It housed the Peach Cat & Dog Hospital and heralded the gentrification of funky Venice. I parked in back and got out.
The thing was this: Kiyoko believed all human suffering sprang from the denial of death. That denial took the form of greed, anger, and foolishness. And I agreed. Hell, I couldn’t agree more. But before everybody wised up there’d be problems here and there. That’s my line. My name’s Dick Henry. They call me the Shortcut Man.
Clark Peach, wringing his hands, met me at the back door. Clark was five foot seven, weighed all of a hundred and twenty pounds, peered at the world through delicate gold-rimmed spectacles. He was one of the premier veterinarians in Los Angeles, according to a magazine that evaluated stuff like that. Ferocious, intractable beasts became docile in his presence. I’d seen that. But people? People were a different kind of beast.
“Thanks for coming, Dick.”
I liked him a lot. He’d actually done something useful with his life. “You the man, Dr. Peach,” I slanged. “Whazzup?”
Of course, I had a good idea what was up.
Dr. Peach kicked an invisible piece of dirt on the floor, then looked up. “Uh, he’s, uh, he’s back.”
I nodded. Dr. Peach was at the butt end of a low-level extortion scam perpetrated by Loman London.
I’d told London to go away early last week. “I didn’t see him on my way in, Doc.”
Dr. Peach checked his watch. “He’ll be here anytime now.”
“Why didn’t you call me sooner?”
The doctor shrugged, with a tinge of embarrassment. “I, uh, I thought maybe I could talk to him myself.”
Hence my vocation.
Doc Peach beckoned to me to follow him. He walked into his office, looked out through the blinds. He turned to me, nodded.
I took a look for myself.
Loman London was a fiftyish wastrel whose contributions to society had not yet added up to a popcorn fart. Two hundred seventy or so pounds were apportioned over his large frame with a hefty surplus accumulating at the waistline. Matted dreadlocks depended thickly to his shoulders. His skin was rough and permanently reddened. Treelike legs, in shorts, interfaced the pavement through a pair of huaraches.
Loman’s scam was a simple one. He would set up his rolling incense cart in front of a likely business and wait to be paid to go somewhere else. In the meantime he would frighten the little blue-haired old ladies bringing their little blue poodles in for a checkup.
I turned to the doc. “I guess Mr. London has a learning disability. I’ll go out and have a talk with him.”
But first I retrieved an accelerant from the Caddy’s trunk. I walked around the building. Tendrils of pungent smoke rose from the incense stand into the morning air. I actually liked the smell. Rastaman greeted me in friendly fashion.
“Salutations, mon. What’s your pleasure? Sandalwood or Pondicherry Pine?” Loman spoke in a pseudo-Jamaican patois.
I stared at him for a second. Beneath his sunny innocence was a surly streak. “I thought we discussed this, pal. You were going to exhibit elsewhere.”
“And I did, mon. That was last week. This is this week.”
The “mon” shit irritated me all over again. Loman the lump hadn’t been within a thousand miles of Jamaica. Though I was sure he’d smoked ten thousand spliffs. On someone else’s dime.
“Doctor Peach isn’t going to pay you again. He asks that you move on.”
There I was. The soul of reason. Even though I had just begun to feel that peculiar tingling in my fists.
Rastaman shrugged. “And I have entertained his request, mon. Dr. Peach a good mon. But I have found a home for my business. This is a free country, mon.”
“The doctor patiently asks you to move on.”
Rastaman shrugged with a hint of brusqueness. “I have found a home for my business, mon.”
“And you refuse to listen to reason.” I was giving bad Bob Marley a last chance. I imagined the I-Three’s shaking their heads in unison behind him. Of course, London wasn’t appreciating his opportunity.
“I refuse to be intimidated, if that’s what you mean, mon.” He folded his thick arms over his thick chest. His friendliness had evaporated.
His chin was calling to my knuckles, but, thinking of Kiyoko, I hung on a little longer. “I guess you don’t recognize the former light-heavyweight champion of the Thirteenth Naval District.”
“Should I be worried, mon?”
It was the “mon” that did it. I stepped around his wares, planted my left foot, launched a right uppercut. The karma missile caught him on the point of the chin and set him, with a thud, flatly on his ass, knocking the wind out of him.
I reached into my back pocket for the can of Ronsonol Lighter Fluid and soaked down the entire incense stand.
Rastaman had not yet regained his feet. He shook his head as if to clear it.
Having survived some righteous shots both in and out of the ring, I knew what he was experiencing. He was hearing a great swarm of bees, though he could not see them.
I indicated his stand. “You ever get your schnoz into what these things smell like when they’re all burning at once?”
I patted down my pockets with a theatrical flair. Had I really forgotten my lighter?
Awareness slowly crept into Rastaman’s face. He looked at his incense stand, then the yellow Ronsonol can.
“Does anyone have a match around here?” I laid my request before the universe.
Rastaman held up a belaying hand.
But the universe saw fit to reply.
“I got a match, brother.”
My heart warmed. I turned and there was Rojas, right on schedule. “Enrique Montalvo Rojas! As I live and breathe!”
Artfully chapeaued in black porkpie, Enrique Rojas was a badass Eastsider. An old colleague with a supremely checkered past, he had romanced heroin, done a stretch at San Quentin, and had found a cat’s-eye worth a million dollars in Sri Lanka that currently supported an orphanage or two. He bore a passionate love for Eric Dolphy and Thelonius Monk.
Rojas eyed the stand. “Should I light it on fire?”
I smiled. “Please.”
From the sidewalk Rastaman waved his hand. “Whoa, now. That’s my entire stock, there, man.” Man, not mon.
I indicated Rojas. “This is Señor Rojas. Señor Rojas loves to beat the shit out of white fools with dreadlocks. Especially ones trying to shake down veterinarians in Venice. Have I made myself clear?”
Rastaman now grasped the full breadth of his misapprehension. “I get it, man. Real clear. Don’t burn my shit. I got places to go. Please.”
Rojas lit a match. “Shall we give the dude another chance?”
“Please,” begged Loman the lump.
I feigned consideration.
“One more chance?” queried Rojas again, appearing for a second to be a nice guy.
“Uhhh . . .” I watched London hang on my every word. “. . . uhh, nah.” I shook my head. “Light him up.”
“Okay,” said Rojas, bubbling with good cheer. He tossed the match onto the stand and it went up in a huge whoosh of flame and wave of heat.
“Thank you, Señor Rojas.” I bowed low.
“Thank you, Señor Henry.” Rojas bowed in return.
© 2012 P. G. Sturges
Tribulations of the Shortcut Man
Dick Henry is the Shortcut Man, assisting people with their sticky situations in the belief that the shortest answer to many problems may not always be legal. In Tribulations of the Shortcut Man, he reluctantly provides assistance to an old girlfriend, pole dancer Pussy Grace.
After Pussy’s boyfriend, rich and famous developer and septuagenarian Art Lewis, has inexplicably cut off communication with her, Dick and Puss enter Lewis’s mansion disguised as gas company employees to investigate. Everything quickly goes downhill. Dick and Puss flee, leaving the very dead Art Lewis behind. Dick anticipates arrest until news breaks the next morning: Art Lewis has just gotten married and is now enjoying his honeymoon. Realizing a conspiracy is afoot, Dick must navigate his way through the underbelly of Los Angeles and a motley crew of miscreants in pursuit of justice.
“Filled with enough dark humor and shady characters to satisfy the most rabid noir fan” (Associated Press), p.g. sturges’s Shortcut Man series is hard-boiled crime at its best.